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Standout of the month was a loooooong historical fiction, The Gates of the Alamo, by Stephen Harrigan, who takes several swipes at the myth. (Let’s just say this is not John Wayne’s “Alamo”.)
Other titles included
-Rush, by Stephen Fried (B) - Biography of Benjamin Rush, who is an ancestor of mine.
-Daughters of the Night Sky, by Aimie Runyan (B) - Novel about Russian women pilots in WWII - not as good as Bruce Myles' nonfiction Night Witches
-Look Alive Twenty-Five, by Janet Evanovich (B) - What can I say? Got it for Christmas.
-The Homesman, by Glendon Swarthout (B) - Interesting western, with emphasis on the physical/mental hardships of women homesteaders. Found out later it was also a movie.
-Shoot the Moon, by Billie Letts (B-) - A sort-of mystery about a young man who appears in a small town claiming to have vanished as a baby from the scene of his mother's murder.
-Cutline, by Bonnie Hearn Hill (C+) - Thriller with a newspaper background.
-The Feminist Companion to Mythology, Carolyne Larrington, ed (My TBR challenge book for January) (C)
-The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel, (C-) - F2F Book Club read. Puzzling true story of a young man who simply decided, one day in 1986, to walk into the Maine woods and disappear into a life of solitude;
-and a truly dreadful little self-published thing I regret having agreed to review -- Secrets By the Knoll, by Julie Metros (D)
This was a kind of blah month, despite the high count. Like many folks, I spent much of February snowed in. Best of a mediocre bunch was probably Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman, which gets a B+. This nonfiction study of Huguette Clark, heiress to a multi-million dollar estate who lived much of her life as a recluse, is fascinating reading about an ultimately unknowable character.
Other reads -
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, by Ann B. Ross: B+
Miss Julia is just getting used to being a widow -- and a wealthy one, at that -- when a visitor comes to her door with another legacy she didn't expect -- her late husband's illegitimate son.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman: B
A charming fairy tale for grownups but not really up to Gaiman's usual standard.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: B
In the planned community of Shaker Heights, everything is perfect, tasteful, and serene until one couple adopts an abandoned baby and the birth mother appears before the adoption is completed.
Unsaid, by Neil Abramson: B
'Unsaid' joins that small niche of novels narrated by a ghost. Or, at any rate, by a soul seeking her ultimate rest by overseeing the actions of those she has left behind as she continues to question the actions she took while living and wondering how those actions are going to affect her afterlife.
Clay's Quilt. by Silas House: B
Impressive first novel tells the story of Clay Sizemore, orphaned in a violent act that has left its scars throughout his extended family.
Sold on Monday, by Kristina McMorris: B-
F2F Group Read. A reporter fakes a photo to go with an article he hopes will bring him a promotion, and events spiral out of control. The issue of children being ""sold"" in difficult financial times is never really the focus of this story, which ranges from romance to adventure.
The Fiction Class, by Susan Green: B-
A young woman struggling with her unfinished novel and an unresolved relationship with her mother finds the answers to both as she teaches a fiction class for adults. Fairly predictable.
The Royal Treatment, by Mary Janice Davidson: C+
Strictly chicklit, of the screwball comedy variety.
Grunt, by Mary Roach: C
Roach takes a look at everything from genital reconstruction to sleep deprivation to stink bombs and -- most often -- manages to keep her wry humor and finely-tuned sense of the ridiculous. The underlying reality -- that this is a book about how the military keeps Our soldiers alive long enough to more efficiently kill more of Their soldiers -- makes it a less-than-comfortable read.
Madame Bovary's Ovaries, by David Barash: C
A light-hearted look at how the genetic imperatives of biology drive the characterization and plots of much great literature.
Forgotten History, by Christopher L. Bennett: C-
'Star Trek' novel with way too many timelines in this convoluted story of a time travel experiment gone wrong.
Advent, by Michael Kamakana: D
I was asked to review this -- wouldn't have finished it otherwise. It's a dense, incomprehensible, repetitive tale about aliens taking over the Earth but nobody seems to know why. Or care. Particularly the reader.
The House I Loved, by Tatiana deRosnay: D
A huge disappointment from the author of Sarah's Key. This one's a really boring book about a widow who refuses to leave her Paris home, slated for destruction as part of a mid-1800s city-wide renovation program.
I don't think Harrigan goes into that at all in his novel. Historically, I believe the fort was used as storage by the U.S. Army until around the turn of the century. 'Gates' is a BIG book, but it's a big canvas.
BTW ... remembering I'm a newbie here ... is there a way to indicate you are quoting from a previous post? I've been using the > symbol, Sometimes -- especially on very active threads -- it can be difficult to understand what a new poster is referring to without a quick way to identify the referenced post.
I’ll be interested to see where your reading takes you this year.
Thanks! I'm nothing if not eclectic!
I think 'Little Fires Everywhere' was better than 'Everything I Never Told You'.
Will be posting March reads shortly, as it's obvious I'm not going to finish the current book before bedtime. It will just roll over into April.
Ten books this month, with one DNF.
Best book honors for March go to The Child, by Fiona Barton, a group read for my F2F club, and rated at an A-. The discovery of a newborn infant's remains at a construction site set off a search for the story behind the remains. Barton takes this base -- which, admittedly has been used before -- and leads the reader down a twisting trail before the final surprise is revealed.
The Accidental Veterinarian, by Philipp Schott: B+
Early Review book. An enjoyable and sprightly collection of short pieces collected from the blog of a Canadian veterinarian specializing in small animal practice.
The Last Bus to Albuquerque, by Lewis Grizzard: B+
Collection of previously non-anthologized columns, published posthumously, also featuring tributes and commentary.
Without My Cloak, by Kate O'Brien: B+
Immense tapestry of a book, centering around one Irish family in the latter half of the 19th century.
A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage: B+
Interesting take on how the development, use, and trade in beer, wine, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, and cola drinks have impacted human history.
Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward: B
Bob Woodward's scathing portrait of the Trump presidency is unlikely to change many minds. Trump opponents will believe every scurrilous detail; Trump supporters will dismiss it whole cloth. And since, if there's anyone out there who is actually attempting to judge this president with unbiased intent, his/her voice is not being heard, one questions why Woodward felt it necessary to produce this 300+ page indictment.
Talk of the Town, by Suzanne MacPherson: B
Park your mundane life at the door and simply dive into this fun fantasy romance where everything -- and you know this is **not** a spoiler -- turns out Cinderella-perfect. Incidentally, it's no coincidence that I turned to this piece of fluff immediately after finishing "Fear". I definitely needed to escape grim reality!
Flawless, by Heather Graham: C
A young woman whose family owns an Irish pub in New York becomes involved in a diamond heist simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the thieves seem to think she knows much more than she does, and that makes her a target. Graham loses points here for a major continuity blooper during the setup.
Stalked, by Elizabeth Heiter: C
This tangled tale of a missing teen is so weighted down with multiple suspects and backstory on the FBI profiler assisting with the investigation that it never manages to create any sense of urgency or suspense.
Steamed, by Katie MacAlister: C-
Steampunk-alternate universe-romance-pirate adventure. What else can I say? Pretty silly stuff, and the interchanges between the hero and heroine are so she-says-one-thing-but-wants-another that they made me uncomfortable. The era of the heroine weakly protesting no! no! no! while thrusting her heaving bosoms at the hero and unbuttoning his trousers is -- one hopes -- over.
Cripple Creek, by Douglas Hirt: DNF
A quarter of the way into the book, the author is still collecting characters for what is obviously going to be a tale of conflict between the greedy, unscrupulous mine owner and the "good" residents of a Colorado mining town in the late 1800s.
Nine books this month, with nothing super-wonderful and nothing super-bad.
Standout was an oddball that I dragged home from the library book sale: Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks, by Stewart Holbrook. Holbrook was a journalist working the Pacific Northwest beat from the 1930s through the 1950s, and his specialty was collecting oddball stories from the region's past. Since many of the locations and some of the stories are familiar to me, it made for a particularly enjoyable read. Rated at B+
The Lady Elizabeth, Alison Weir: B+
Weir takes a look at the life of Elizabeth I, from the death of Anne Boleyn through Elizabeth's assumption of the throne after the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary.
Ladies' Night, Mary Kay Andrews: B
Andrews has the he-done-her-wrong revenge story down pat by now, and this time has a whole passle of aggravated ex-wives out to put the screws to their philandering menfolk.
Now & Then, Robert B. Parker: B
Reading Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels is like eating potato chips -- crunchy, salty, greasy, and utterly without nutrition, but who cares? Fun way to spend an afternoon, and it won't even spoil your dinner.
Gather the Daughters, Jennie Melamed: C+
A fundamentalist group flees a disintegrating society to form a closed community on a small island, location and time period unspecified. Kind of "Lord of the Flies" meets "The Handmaid's Tale".
The Undiscovered Country, J.M. Dillard: C
Novelization of one of the less-compelling Star Trek movies. Dillard adds some background padding, but it doesn't help much.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers: C-
I really wanted to like this story, but at base it's a total downer. Nobody gets what they want, nobody lives happily ever after, and nobody apparently learns anything.
Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir: C-
Remember upthread when I gave Weir's "The Lady Elizabeth" good marks? This same-time-period piece about Elizabeth's cousin, Lady Jane Grey, is a dismal slog through the political scheming that put Grey on the throne (for nine whole days) in an attempt to keep Queen Mary off of it. Even a Tudor geek like yours truly found this one a real chore to get through.
Yes, I do tend to dabble in almost everything except techno-thrillers and spy novels, and purposely try to mix things up. And groups like this one keep pointing out stuff that sounds interesting, so my TBR list just gets longer and more diverse!
Kind of a blah month with only five books read and no standout. I did tackle "Pride and Prejudice" but found it unreadable. (Ducks behind desk.) However, I did get far enough into it ... 88 pages over the course of a full week ... that I picked up the reference in "Emeralds and Envy" in which the heroine / narrator, says she "goes all Jane Austen" when speaking to Mr. Hunky. So ... in order from vanilla pudding to marshmallow fluff...
Missing You, Harlan Coben: B-
A woman cop can't let go of the mystery of her father's murder, and a chance encounter with an old flame makes it all new again.
Emeralds and Envy, Angela McRae: C
Reviewed for Library Thing in return for free copy. Fun little cozy setting up a series about a young woman who left a journalism career and is trying to get a custom-jewelry business off the ground. Quick read; not much to set it apart from others in the genre.
Cop: A True Story, Michael Middleton: C
Memoirs of a 20-veteran of the LAPD. The stories range from heart-warming to horrific to humorous, but Middleton presents them unemotionally and there's really no arc or internal structure to the book.
The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah: C-
Group read. Hannah does a good job here of describing and defining Alaska, which is almost as much a character in the book as her human protagonists. But the story itself descends into soapiness, the resolution depends n some unlikely happenstance, and the main character's mother is wildly inconsistent.
Hangsaman, Shirley Jackson: D
Disappointing mishmash about a girl leaving her creepily controlling father to go off to a college peopled by equally controlling types.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: DNF
With apologies to all the Austen fans out there, I found this just unreadable. It was interesting to see the birth of so many romance-genre cliches, but the overly-embroidered language did me in.
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Nine books read this month, with one unfinished. Standout was a re-read of Tom Robbins’ ‘Another Roadside Attraction’.
Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins: A
Robbins' riff on organized relition is still as sharp and funny as it was when it was written half a century (!) ago. (Man, I feel old!)
There There, Tommy Orange: A-
A dozen narrators crowd this novel, each an Urban Indian, their only apparent connection their ethnicity and their determination to attend a powwow in Oakland, California. This barely missed being a 5-star read, but none of the characters had a unique voice, and during the shattering climax, it was hard to keep the players straight.
Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver: B+
Kingsolver looks at the lives of two very different people, each saddled by an inherited money pit of a house, separate by 140 years in time. Both are struggling against a world in which their pre-conceptions and the rules by which they have always played are being violently wrenched apart.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng: B
Second reading of this one, this time for my F2F group. In the planned community of Shaker Heights, everything is perfect, tasteful, and serene. Not even the appearance of a free-spirited single mom and her artworks can make much of a ripple. But when one couple adopts an abandoned baby and the birth mother appears before the adoption is completed, all kinds of secrets and imperfections are revealed in the lives of three families. It was particularly interesting this time to notice Ng's many flame references -- a stylistic turn I missed completely the first time through.
Pillar of Darkness, David Duncan: B-
Library Thing Early Review book. A group of adventurers enters a mysterious region that spontaneously appeared in Africa, where time and space seem unrestricted by our physical laws, and where 80% of its explorers fail to return. This was published posthumously, and definitely feels a bit unfinished.
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Robert Heinlein: B-
When Colin Campbell (aka Richard Ame, aka Senator Richard Johnson) is unjustly (and inexplicably) accused of murder on the space habitat Golden Rule, it sets off a roller-coaster flight through Lunar space and -- ultimately -- through time and a multitude of universes. Riddled with snappy dialogue and utterly self-referent, it's best read by someone who is either familiar with Heinlein's Lazarus Long series, or by someone who doesn't care that much of it makes no sense at all.
Taboo, Kim Scott: C
Library Thing Early Review book. A young woman of mixed white and Aboriginal heritage, tries to reconnect with her heritage by participating in a series of workshops with her extended family, many of whom she really doesn’t know.
A Terrible Glory, James Donovan: C
Somewhat disappointing. While undoubtedly well-researched and broad in scope, the events of the battle are hard to follow and promised "revelations" arising from recent forensic archaeological studies of the battlefield are not apparent.
Left for Dead, J.A. Jance: C-
Part of the Ali Reynolds series. This one involving a crime spree that leaves dead bodis and wrecked lives inits wake as a young cop injured in a traffic stop is accused of drug running, a young girl savagely beaten and left for dead in the desert fights for her life, and an unassuming mailman is inexplicably bludgeoned to death in his garage. Even with all this mayhem, the book fails to engage.
Brothers of the Earth, C.J. Cherryh: DNF
Couldn't get into this sf novel of two humans, each the last survivor of their destroyed home planet, on an alien world.
Another kind of blah reading month for me, with six books read, one DNF, and no real standouts.
Failure Is Not an Option, Gene Krantz: B+
Krantz’ memoir of his years in Mission Control for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs is a treasure trove of inside info for space buffs, but it’s also overpacked with detail. There are a lot of names swimming around in an alphabet-soup of program acronyms, which can make it hard going at times.
The Power, Naomi Alderman: B+
Alderman’s fantasy about a futuristic world in which women have a physical power denied to men hits a few clichés along the way, but generally avoids the worst of men-are-beasts-and-women-are-angels tropes.
The French Exit, Patrick deWitt: B
Rich people doing outrageous things. (Book club read.)
Hardcore Twenty-Four, Janet Evanovith: B
Stephanie Plum’s adventures are beginning to feel a little stale. Even zombies can’t help this one.
Washingtonians, David Brewster & David Burge, eds: C-
Some very poor design decisions mar this generally interesting book. Commissioned as part of the state’s centennial celebration in 1989, it sets itself the huge task of presenting biographical sketches of the men and women who shaped the state over its then nearly 400-year history. The early stuff is fascinating, but the thing is so poorly designed that it’s almost physically impossible to read. Open, it has a wingspan of nearly 20”, and at 500+ pages weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of four pounds. At every opportunity, the designers (who ought to be taken out and shot) have opted for the artistic over the practical. Three-inch margins? Are you kidding me? Sidebars dropped randomly into biographical sketches like raisins in a cookie? What were they thinking?
Something Very Wicked, Mary Zelinksy: C-
I’m generally willing to cut some slack for cosy mysteries, but when the “hero” lies from the get-go, is manipulative, sexually aggressive, condescending in the worst don’t-worry-your-pretty-little-head-about-it manner, and actively disdains the heroine’s professional goals, I have a little problem with him -- even if he is handsome, rich, and a good kisser.